Thoughtful comment on gender and politics

Today is a fabulous day, but…

Happy International Women’s Day!

Firstly, let me say, I love IWD. It creates a brilliant platform to celebrate women’s stories, women’s history and women’s activism. I particularly love the stories you hear about activism from around the world – last year I went to see Angélique Kidjo and Fatoumata Diawara perform and share stories of women in Benin and Mali at the Women of the World Festival at the South Bank Centre.

I am also very grateful to IWD – I got my first job in politics after going to a panel discussion to mark IWD in 2009. I was so inspired I decided to hound one of the panellists for an internship, and that eventually led to a job in Parliament with Emily Thornberry MP.

And it’s in Parliament, on the theme of women’s political representation, where I’m going to stay today – this blog post does not have a very international flavour I’m afraid. It’s been revealed today that tax and benefit changes since 2010 have hit women nearly four times worse than men. Yes, you read that right,FOUR TIMES worse.

Analysis by the House of Commons Library has shown that since 2010 George Osborne has raised a net £3.0 billion (21%) from men and £11.6 billion (79%) from women. Cuts to tax credits, reductions to childcare support through tax credits and child benefit cuts all contribute to these staggering statistics.

When I read numbers like these the question I ask is why? Does George Osborne hate women? Is he on a mission to make women poor? Does he believe that the vast majority of families are supported by a male breadwinner? I believe the answer to the first two is ‘no’ – despite appearances I don’t believe the Chancellor hates women or is on a mission to raid their coffers – if only things were that simple! The answer to the third question though is probably ‘yes’, maybe I’m naive, but I prefer to believe his actions are misguided rather than blatantly sexist.

And I don’t think it’s fair to solely blame the Chancellor for numbers like these – I hold the whole Treasury team and the Cabinet responsible. Mr. Osborne is powerful but the Prime Minister and his colleagues also have input into where the axe falls. And if you take a look at the Cabinet (which I urge you to do), you might realise what I’m getting at.

Just four out of the 22 members of the Cabinet are female, and just one of the five Treasury ministers (scroll down to the ‘Our Ministers’ section). And I like to think that if women were a bit more visible in society, if women’s politics (and not women’s bodies) were a bit more prevalent in the media, there might be a few more women with a seat at the top table. And if all these things were the case then maybe, just maybe, everyone at the top table, women and men, would do their sums before they sharpen the axe.

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